Social networking site Facebook is hell-bent on giving its tech rivals a run for their money in the digital personal assistant segment now.
David Marcus, Vice President of Messaging Products at Facebook mentioned a few details in his post about the new service called ‘M’. The post on Facebook, dated 26th August 2015 revealed the testing of ‘M’- which is described as the personal digital assistant inside Facebook messenger.
‘M’ is a text-based virtual assistant that can fulfill user requests and is based on artificial intelligence as well as human intelligence and power.
Although ‘M’ is based on and powered by the concept of artificial intelligence, it is said to be strikingly different from other digital assistants and AI-based services as it powered by actual humans. ‘M’ can complete tasks on behalf of users like purchasing items, book tickets, make reservations, make appointments among many other errands. Its AI is trained and supervised by people, and this was facilitated by the acquisition of Wit.ai by Facebook to help developers with speech recognition and voice interfaces. Along with completing tasks, it can also find and render useful information for users.
‘M’, like other digital assistants, will make suggestions and help users based on the data the company possesses. However, the concept of embedding the service inside the Messenger will expectedly gather better responses as the public is more comfortable typing messages rather than speaking commands as required by Siri, Coratna and Google Now; and unlike these assistants, ‘M’ has no gender.
To send a note to ‘M’, users will tap a small button at the bottom of the Messenger. Follow-up questions will then be asked after the software decodes the language. Based on answers to the questions, ‘M’ will make suggestions, thus leaving collection of social data out of the picture at least for the time being. In the process of tasks being completed, users will constantly be updated by the assistant.
Due credit is to be given to Marcus, who acted as a catalyst to the process of M’s development. The service has gained extended attention since he joined the company and has played a major role in every task associated with it.
The product is set to give immense competition to Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now. These companies rely heavily on technology and hence their digital helpers are limited in the type and number of tasks they can perform. On the other hand, firms like TaskRabbit and startups like Magic and Operator have developed text based assistants using actual people to complete almost all kinds of tasks. Facebook’s ‘M’ is an amalgamation of the two types of assistants.
By means of building ‘M’, Facebook intends to make its Messenger the first stop for search on mobile to make up for the disadvantage of not having its own operating system. It wants to enable users to search or buy anything easily using this service. This may increase the number of users using Facebook on mobile and generate additional revenue for the company. Marcus said in an interview, “We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do. Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to [make money] over time”.
The company is already offering customer service on Messenger and had recently announced ‘Business on Messenger’ to provide basic customer service. Embedding ‘M’ into the Messenger will only boost such kind of business. The free service is only available to California’s Bay Area residents but will eventually be available to all Facebook users in the coming weeks.
Although the concept and service look promising, it is difficult to judge the absolute success the product will uncover in the near future. Since the virtual assistant uses a lot of manpower along with artificial intelligence, Right now, ‘M’ trainers are sitting with engineers at the Facebook office. The company may require an enormous mass to complete the innumerable tasks ‘M’ promises to accomplish. This may require a huge investment but the expenditure is anticipated to be offset by the revenue growth. Nevertheless, it is indeed a smart idea to implant the service into a Messenger and it is expected to expand over time.